Sound — 7
Chicago's Fall Out Boy came to the attention of a mainstream audience with sophomore LP "From Under The Cork Tree" and its just-emo-enough single "Sugar, We're Going Down". In a time when pop-punk was still riding the wave of Sum 41, Blink-182, and Green Day, Fall Out Boy were right at home altering the formula slightly for a heavier and more emotionally-driven sound. "Infinity On High" and "Folie A Deux" expanded upon the band's multi-platinum success; each received arguably less attention than the one before, though the latter especially was wonderfully received by critics. By 2008's "Folie", Fall Out Boy had evolved beyond its essentially pop-punk roots to a more vocally-driven, somewhat industrial-pop influenced sound. This opened the floodgates for the band's sonic future, though in 2009 the band broke from recording and touring indefinitely. None separated from the musical community, and singer/guitarist Patrick Stump (who was anxious to record "Infinity On High" months before it happened) kept the pace especially, releasing "Soul Punk" in 2011 under his name. Like "Folie", it was mostly well-received but received little attention otherwise. After weeks of persistent Fall Out Boy reunion rumors in late 2012 and early 2013, the band announced its comeback and new record, "Save Rock And Roll". Dismissing the title for the time being, this record is first and foremost most definitely not "rock and roll" (incidentally, one wonders when the "and" was inserted). Rather, as in the case of recent-reunited Blink-182, it is a continuation of its predecessor. Whatever expectations might have been reserved for a "return to the old sound", as fan communities continue to deceive themselves into believing in, are utterly she'd as "The Phoenix" fades in with strings more reminiscent of "W.A.M.S." or "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs" than anything before. Unlike "Infinity On High", however, the production is bombast and the instrumentation is enough to blow out iPod headphones that "Take This To Your Grave" barely fills. There are some similarities to "Soul Punk", especially with Stump's overwhelming presence from "The Phoenix" to the titular closer. This will almost certainly put off the fans of "Cork Tree" (now potentially well over the minimum age to drink away their disappointment) and thrill fans, both die-hard and casual, of "Folie" and "Soul Punk". Despite its placement firmly following Stump's solo work, there are marked differences, the greatest arguably being increased production value. Likewise, "Save Rock And Roll" is a vast departure even from "Folie A Deux" and its characteristically left-field experimentation - specifically, guitars are tuned down to a near zero. With the exception of a couple of solos and "The Mighty Fall" 's driving riff, the guitars are used about as much as any non-percussive instrument: a spice, rather than the meat. Though it certainly wasn't always a driving force, the guitar was at least twice as present on the very-electronic "Soul Punk". On that note, "Save Rock And Roll" ditches most of Stump's love affair with the electronic keyboard for the better. The resulting product is certainly more pop-and-bass-driven than Fall Out Boy's previous work (perhaps bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz stepped up when he realized Stump was just as good a writer as he), but not necessarily more electronic. Buyer beware: "Save Rock And Roll" isn't all happy reunions and violent pop-driven tunes like "The Phoenix". Beginning with "Alone Together", the distinct impression sets in that there's less to bite in this apple than Fall Out Boy typically advertises. The epiphany comes at a repeated "Yeah, yeah, yeah" effect near the end: it's a cut, rather than a distinct vocal repetition. This is the kind of silly production found all over 21st century pop airwaves, and it's somewhat disappointing that this is coming from the same band as "What A Catch, Donnie" and "XO". "Where Did The Party Go" is similarly light in the loafers, with plenty of very easy choices made in production and composition. Put lightly, it's just a pop song. It isn't until Stump takes the helm that "Save Rock And Roll" becomes exciting, as "Just One Yesterday" makes quite clear. If "Folie A Deux" had too many guest spots, "Save Rock And Roll" should take the cake for keeping them on mic for too long. "The Mighty Fall" begins with Big Sean exclaiming "Oh, God", and listeners may find a similar sigh on their lips. Though Stump's impassioned verses almost saves the track, the cameo is just too much. Where it certainly fits the genre, the jury's out as to whether random rapper appearances sit well on a release by a rock band, even if said release isn't exactly rock. Rap isn't your thing? Have no fear: Kurt Cobain's murderer I mean widow rants through "Rat A Tat" for... no apparent reason. Once again, the awfulness of the track's guest is introduced with Stump's unintentionally ironic "Are you ready for another bad poem?". Elton John is neither here nor there in the title track, though considering the content, one can't help but wonder if he was supposed to be the rock 'n' roll. Speaking of "Save Rock And Roll" (the song), the album is strangely devoid of an emotional core. Oh, this happens all the time with other acts, but the kings of pop-punk/emo/whatever singles? Surely, it's impossible. You'd better believe it: "Save Rock And Roll" is the one and only truly vulnerable track here. Sure, "Just One Yesterday" has a nice chorus and "Young Volcanoes" is terrible-but-sweet, but there's nothing mellow about "Save Rock And Roll" even when it's moving through the mud, it just won't stop. This is especially remarkable with "Golden" and "What A Catch, Donnie" competing from Fall Out Boy past. At times, it creates that "please like me" effect, though because of the record's own brevity this doesn't last for nearly as long as on "Infinity". Altogether, there certainly isn't anything wrong with "Save Rock And Roll", whether released by Fall Out Boy or competitors in the genre. When they do it well, they do it best "The Phoenix", "Just One Yesterday", and "Miss Missing You" are particular gems but when it falls flat, it's nothing short of uncomfortable. "Young Volcanoes" is weak, being the standard bright-eyed-bushy-tailed acoustic guitar pop love song. It's just one example of "Save Rock And Roll" exploring, perhaps, too much of itself: good and bad. "Folie" and "Soul Punk" each knew what they wanted to achieve, and certainly did. Fall Out Boy releases prior to 2008 had the same sense of purpose. "Save Rock and Roll" lacks this. The subject matter and musical composition seem to have little foundation apart from the genre into which they are placed. Some of it is great stuff, but the record as a whole fails in ways none of the band's previous releases do.
Lyrics — 7
I suspect that after "Soul Punk", Pete Wentz was faced with a concept utterly new to him: someone can write just as well, if not better, than he can. As a result again, all theoretical he really stepped to the plate with "Save Rock And Roll". Without a doubt, some of the old cliches (hearkening back to "Cork Tree") return, but with a grace and power neither "Infinity" nor "Folie" touched on. Whether it's simple revelations ("Sometimes, the person you take a bullet for is behind the trigger") or some of "Infinity"'s dark imagery ("See how dirty I can get them/Pulling out their fragile teeth/And clip their tiny wings"), the record hits a home runs on nearly every track. In fact, in some places the music actually gets in the way of some of the better lyrical moments; notably, "Alone Together" and "Miss Missing You" may have benefit from a step down from their grandeur in favor of Wentz's charming lyricism. Some moments are touching enough that listeners may find the music invasive, as fun as some of it is. Considering the flak Wentz has, on the occasion, received from more adult listeners, it is truly a shame that once he finally hits it hard, the music oversteps itself something the composition on these records rarely does at all, let alone to the detriment of the lyrical work. Anyone familiar with "Folie" and "Soul Punk" knows full well that Patrick Stump has stepped up as a singer; here, he does it in spades. "The Phoenix" and "The Mighty Fall" are triumphant; "Just One Yesterday" and the title track are moving; weaker tracks such as "Death Valley" and "Where Did The Party Go" are saved by the vocal work. The only criticism to offer Stump is that the tracks required saving in the first place. "Save Rock And Roll" is, for all intents and purposes, Stump's album. Wentz may have penned the words, but he delivers them with the confidence of Freddie Mercury and the bite of Michael Jackson's "Bad". Forget Adele and Ke$ha; this decade's pop voice is Patrick Stump. From the dull debut of "Evening Out With Your Girlfriend" and the chest in "Take This To Your Grave" to spectacular work on "Folie" and "Soul Punk", Stump's evolution is a marvel and so is his work here. The guest spots deserve a brief spotlight in the lyrical department, since their work is the weakest here. Whether Wentz could have used a highlight in "Alone Together" is the last question on mind when Big Sean comes into "The Mighty Fall". The appearance is utterly unnecessary, and the track's bridge could easily have been reworked. The album's worst line comes from Big Sean's rant (disregarding the man's comedic intent, it isn't a rap): "Hell yeah I'm a d-ck, girl/Addicted to you". This is the pinnacle of every dignified critic's disdain for Wentz, and it isn't even his line. It's a terrible pun, whether meant seriously or not (apparently Big Sean is a comedic genius). But it gets worse. "It's Courtney, b-tch" announces Courtney Love at the outset of "Rat A Tat". After that are (ironic) allusions to suicide, PowerPoint, and get this an emotionally challenged ambiguous "she" character. You don't say! The rest of the track is alright, but those monologues are pretty grating. Elton John is neither here nor there in "Save Rock And Roll"; it's a nice cameo in the same sense that Elvis Costello in "What A Catch, Donnie" was. Like much on this record, however, it is arguably unnecessary and risks compromising the record's identity, especially considering that the last note in the record belongs to John himself.
Overall Impression — 5
Before closing, there is an elephant in the room, and its name is "Save Rock and Roll". Skepticism of the title is not uncommon, whether taken seriously or in jest. Does the record save rock 'n' roll? Does it intend to? If so, how? If not, what does it do? The answer, perhaps, is in the closing track. Wentz has spoken on the subject, stating "... We do want to promote little-R rock 'n' roll, which is an attitude, a perspective on life." Astoundingly, he followed this up with "We feel like little-R rock 'n' roll is 2 Chainz and Kanye West and Lena Dunham and people like that." (As an aside, perhaps he really needed the lyrical image resurrection here, because his uncomfortable presence in the media sure hasn't changed.) That was about the impression left by the actual lyrical work on the title track. "Wherever I go, go/Trouble seems to follow/I only plugged in to save rock 'n' roll" is suggestive of a dying movement and its desperate followers. To some degree, perhaps that's what rock 'n' roll (or any musical following) can deteriorate to: a few emotionally attached survivors clinging to its survival. On the other hand, perhaps it's about something more profound than a musical genre: specifically, the ability of an individual (or group) to affect change, to dream, and to accept oneself despite failure in endeavors like "saving" rock 'n' roll. In any case, it's a fantastic track. "Save Rock And Roll" isn't necessarily a comeback album. Fall Out Boy never broke up; they didn't need a "comeback". It isn't their classic pop staple. It isn't saving anything. So what is it? Well... Not much. Sure, there are some hits. "The Phoenix" is their strongest opener, "Save Rock And Roll" is one of their most profound tracks, and "Just One Yesterday" had damn well better dignify Stump in the eyes of the critical community. There are also some misses and some moments that require a second listening to really remember. Where "Save Rock And Roll" succeeds because of "Save Rock And Roll". It also fails for the same reason. Suddenly dropping a profound message, as though this was the point all along (did M. Night Shyamalan produce this record?), feels misplaced on an album full of not-so-profound tracks about love and anger and whatever other mono-dimensional messages pop typically sports. After Fall Out Boy's generally linear construction of albums, it feels almost as disjointed as one might expect from a compilation. There isn't a singularly slow-breathing moment until the finale, which is also the most balls-out of the bunch. It feels purposeless. Every track on "Save Rock And Roll" is a dream of pop composition. Stump is a dream of pop singing. Wentz is even a real cut above here. But "Save Rock And Roll" is truly no more than the sum of its parts. Those parts are more than worth the wait, to be certain, but anyone looking for the next "Folie" (the next "Cork Tree", if you're still on that) isn't going to be left with much more than a pleasant listening experience and the triumphant feeling that their favorite pop/punk band is finally going to be taken seriously (or not).